#6 of 2010: Madden NFL 11

Posted December 28th, 2010 at 11:00 am

Madden faces far and away the heaviest scrutiny of any sports game franchise. Various boundaries placed on the series have kept the game from really breaking out of the perception that each year simply brings about a marginal upgrade. Madden 10 was an excellent attempt even exceeding many expectations but Madden 11 failed to follow-up on that. A change in philosophical direction and a move to appeasing casual players proved to be a mistake but one that could be corrected going forward.

The ranking of games in the best of 2010 list is based on the personal amount of enjoyment had with a particular title, whether advertised features were fully delivered on, post-release support, community interaction and communication, overall gameplay experience, feature set, and online play performance. Again this is largely a personal take on the games and not a recap of those with the highest scores on Metacritic. The analysis is weighted heavily towards those which I had the most fun with while considering them as a whole and compared relatively to the field.

(Related: Hits and MissesOnline ImpressionsFull Pre-Release Impressions3D ImpressionsDeveloper Podcast w/Pastapadre)

The big features for Madden 11 were centered on accessibility, though there were other features buried within upgrades that did improve the gameplay experience. Heavily marketed in particular was GameFlow, which quickened the pace of games by having plays chosen by the CPU. In conjunction with GameFlow the feature could be tailored more to the individual, but it still had its share of issues. There is a lot of potential to turn GameFlow into a feature that appeals to both the casuals and the hardcore players but as-is it probably wasn’t loved or embraced completely by either group.

The focus on casuals and accessibility was warranted but ultimately didn’t succeed in drawing in new consumers, it may have actually damaged some of the relations with longtime fans of the series. Decisions like implementing the Strategy Pad (standard pre-play controls later patched back in) and ignoring Franchise and Online Franchise really stung beyond just the initial reactions. Even a 3D mode made available months after release bordered on insulting in the manner needed to activate it and the final on-screen product after all of that. At least they didn’t market that as a serious worthwhile feature.

Beyond just the lack of compelling features the gameplay also had some fundamental issues that hurt the experience and left some unsatisfying feelings at times. Play action resulted in pretty much automatic sacks, there was horrendous kick return blocking, the QB storylines that were to play out before games were mostly missing, CPU kickers couldn’t make even the easiest of kicks in weather, and tackles were being broken at astounding rates. Still I did like the unpredictable nature, I just wish it was seen with more spectacular plays or blown coverages or things of that nature instead of broken tackles.

Madden 11 did remain one of the most fully featured sports titles available, the problem though still that none of the modes feel completely fleshed out. Franchise, Online Franchise, and Superstar modes went untouched from Madden 10. There is just a sense of emptiness throughout the game.

On the positive side there were strides made in presentation, and Gus Johnson injected some excitement into the commentary. The atmosphere was much better also due to stadium specific chants and fight songs. Player control was excellent and the running game felt really good in particular because of it. The fun factor was high in gameplay which really shouldn’t be discounted despite everything else being laid out here that needed work.

Online play was a disappointment especially early after release of the game. Quitters weren’t receiving losses, the new kick meter lagged, the ability to use or not use GameFlow made for disjointed pacing, and the ability for friends to be challenged to ranked games was removed. While some of the issues were ironed out there were also periods where disconnects become troublesome and even that had attempted fixes implemented in patches. Online Team Play was a nice addition but not a game changer. Online performance otherwise was solid.

One gripe that has been building relates to the prominence of downloadable content, with microtransactions playing a larger role in the game than ever before. Even with the “Online Pass” for online functionality, reaching the online area just brings about more options of things to purchase. Scouting Reports online were particularly useless and Madden Moments Live haven’t been selling. On the other hand Madden Ultimate Team has been extremely lucrative for EA and in that sense it is understandable that resources are being put into that area of the game.

The post-release support has been unmatched. An unprecedented five patches have been released and by the end of the season there will have been 20 roster updates. The success of each particular patch can be questioned, but the dedication to trying to improve the game should not be.

In a lot of ways Madden 11 represented the series in general this generation. It was a game that was solid in all areas but really spectacular in none and had questionable priorities and resource allocation. Still the game hit well on fun factor, delivered on all the advertised features, and had outstanding post-release support and these days even providing that much can be an accomplishment relative to the field.

#6: Madden 11
#7: Kinect Sports
#8: MLB 10 The Show
#9: NHL 11
#10: NBA Jam
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